In sports, extraordinary behavior (or the action that separates oneself from the ordinary) is popularly displayed as an athlete’s ability to triumph through pain. The image of professional baseball pitcher Curt Schilling at the mound with a bloody sock, or the picture of Olympic Gymnast Kerri Strung’s wincing in pain while striking a pose moments after a heroic leg breaking performance reflect our obsession with individuals overcoming challenges and succeeding in spite of physical pain. These monumental figures defy ordinary and embody an old simple societal saying – “No pain, No Gain”. The value we place on these images shows that we are not only proud supporters but attracted to the maxim “No pain, No gain”. No other sport reflects this widely touted cliche better than American Football.
Football after all is a physical sport characterized by individuals running with enough speed and producing enough force to inflict bone breaking consequences to one another. As fans interested in extraordinary individuals triumphing through pain we are heavily attracted to the sport of Football. In fact, according to the Harris poll Professional Football is widely considered America’s number one sport (Poll, 2016). However, the extraordinary displays of physically painful and triumphant episodes that imbues the sport we all love is also a large threat to it’s continued success. Every step one gains in the sport of football often leaves a painful and palpable reminder of its physicality. This pain is generally reflected in the form of injury. For the sport of football and the athletes within it, for which we cheer and support, this injurious environment is a serious problem with long term consequences. The rate of injury has continued to raise eyebrows especially in the year 2017 as it has claimed many of the NFL’s most notable Football stars (Gagnon, B., (2017).
It is difficult to ascertain the rate of injury in professional football. However, in a 2009 study, The NCAA reported an injury rate of 8.1 injuries per 1,000 athlete exposures (games and practices combined) in collegiate football. Researchers reported that just five years of football amassed over 40,000 injuries from 25 million athlete exposures. These investigators also demonstrated that the injury rate was likely to be the highest at the onset of football or during preseason activity (NCAA, 2009).
In this study, the preseason phase (period where football athletes begin to prepare for competitive play) reflected an injury rate of 9.7 episodes per 1,000 athlete exposures. In addition, the In – season phase (football period where football athletes compete in competitive play) showed an injury rate of 7.5 episodes per 1000 athlete exposures (NCAA,2009). So as football athletes prepare for the competitive season during the In – season and preseason periods there is a notable prevalence of injury and corresponding increase in pain that occurs.
While those who fandom sport, often champion athletes who gain and succeed in spite of pain and injury during competitive sport, movement specialists, trainers strength and conditioning coaches or those interested in the preserving the health of athletes generally admonish against the occurrence of pain and injury for athletic success. Instead, these athletic caretakers are more interested in scenarios where athletes are able to display their full potential without injury or pain.
This focus reflects the objective of the movement specialists, trainers and performance coaches who recognize the pain and injury that take place during the preparatory and regular phase of competitive football.
In other words, those individuals who work with athletes during competitive play understand the importance of training and treatment methods that can help prevent, limit or effectively manage the occurrence of pain and injury in sport. This objective is not only an important measure for improving the potential for athletic success but also a necessary step in protecting the appeal and the integrity of sport – especially American Football.
Movement specialists who work with athletes during the competitive season acknowledge that one of the most important steps they can take in preventing, limiting or managing pain and injury is treating muscle and myofascial tissue by targeting myofascial trigger points. Through this approach, movement specialists and performance coaches can help to improve movement potential, limit pain while also boosting athletic gains.
Limitation to movement can result from pain and/or mobility restrictions that are associated with the occurrence of myofascial trigger points. Researchers Simons, Travell, and Simons’ defined the myofascial trigger point (MFTrP) as “…a hyper-irritable spot in skeletal muscle that is associated with a hypersensitive palpable nodule in a taut band (Mcpartland, Simons, 2006). This trigger point can also be present in muscle fascia or the”connective tissue network” that interconnects throughout the entire body. The myofascial trigger point can be caused or activated by a number of methods including acute or chronic injury to a muscle, tendon, ligament, joint, disc or nerve. (Simons, 2002). However, of these methods the most common is trauma to the muscle. This trauma maybe a direct injury to the muscle (such as a contusion or bruise) or as the result of an indirect injury such as muscle overload during prolonged poor posture (Resteghini, 2006).
The result of trauma to tissue can result in the formation of hyperirritable spots or adhesions that occur most frequently under the skin within the fascia layers. These spots can also occur within cell membranes, intracellularly, in and on muscles, tendons, ligaments, skin, organs and elsewhere. In all cases, they involve a hardening, toughening or fibrosis of the body tissues. When viewed under a microscope, they appear as “relatively large, rounded, darkly staining muscle fibers (McPartland & Simmons, 2006) .
The manifestation of trigger points can result in structural changes of muscle tissue by significantly increasing the diameter of a muscle fiber. Trigger points may result in tightness and shortening of the involved muscle resulting in a restricted range of stretch as well as an increased sensitivity to stretch (Resteghini, 2006). In addition to structural changes, trigger points can disrupt tissue function. Authors note that a muscle with a trigger point may display weakness as well as pain (Resteghini, 2006). This characteristic is one of the many reasons why the presence of myofascial trigger points represents an impediment to mobility, flexibility, efficiency, muscle function or factors integral to athletic success. The threat of trigger points to an athlete’s movement and performance potential should be a concern as well as a method of approach for movement and performance specialists. To understand why it is important to revisit the three pillars for which athletic potential s built upon or movement quality, physical capacity and athletic skill.
Movement quality or the ability to move well is considered to be an important requisite for physical capacity and the ability to display athletic skill. understanding the relative differences between these three factors for athletic success can provide further insight to the relationship of myofasical trigger points to movement and athletic potential.
Think of movement quality as the ability to get into a good low depth squat position. Understanding an individuals limitation in a squat movement can involve movement specialists asking questions like “Is the inability to produce a low squat due to structural limitations, learned behavior or soft tissue restrictions? or “is a squat limiting mobility restriction of a particular joint caused by past injuries/muscle length issues or tissue adhesions.
Physical capacity represents the amount one can squat and or the power generated. Quality of movement can impact physical capacity by diminishing the potential range for producing or absorbing force. Thus, physical capacity is said to rest on an individual’s movement potential.
Skill training is recognized as the ability to display sport technique. It can be recognize in a variety of ways such as the quality of evasiveness during a game, the ability to run a route, block or get out of a particular stance. Skill can be influenced by an athletes ability to move well (movement quality) and produce force (physical capacity).
Leading movement experts note that when it comes to training athlete movement quality must be acknowledge in order to produce a measurable impact on physical capacity, skill and athletic potential (Cook 2010). In other words any limitation in movement capacity is a limitation to athletic potential. Hence, the deficiencies, dysfunctions or mobility issues that result or threaten the limitations of our athlete’s movement ability should be a chief priority in our training objective if we wish to improve our athlete’s sport performance abilities.
As movement and performance specialist our focus should aim to correct those factors ahead of or in conjunction with training that centers on our athlete’s physical capacity or skill. This understanding provides a framework for our approach to the football inseason, or a period marked with a relative increase injury/pain and as well as a corresponding presence of myofascial trigger points. This heightened focus on diminishing pain inducing and movement restricting factors such as trigger points during the in season can help provide or maintain clear perception and behavior and better motor control for our football athletes. This strategy can help both the athlete and the sport of football to make great gains with little to no pain – A motto that I can certainly support.
Datalys Center, Inc. (2017). Retrieved from http://www.datalyscenter.org/
Gagnon, B., (2017). NFL 2017 All-Injured Team is loaded with Pro Bowl players at halfway point of season. Retrieved from https://www.cbssports.com/nfl/news/nfl-2017-all-injured-team-is-loaded-with-pro-bowl-players-at-halfway-point-of-season/
Dan Liburd is in his ninth season as a NFL Strength and Conditioning Coach. Liburd has experience in designing, implementing and supervising strength and conditioning programs for various athletic populations. Liburd also has experience in designing and overseeing team nutrition and dietary programs. Liburd is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist who earned his Bachelor degree in Exercise Science from Boston University. He has a Master of Science degree from Canisius College in Health and Human Performance and is currently working towards his Ph.D. in Health and Human Performance at Concordia University Chicago. Liburd holds a variety of certifications in Health and Sport Nutrition, Olympic Weight Lifting and Movement Assessment. These certifications include Precision Nutrition Level I and Level II as well as USA Weightlifting and Functional Movement Systems. Liburd also has a great deal of experience in Health, Fitness and Sport Strength and Conditioning. Liburd has worked with several professional teams such as the Buffalo Bills and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Liburd has also held various positions in Collegiate Strength and Conditioning programs. He has worked with the Boston University Terriers, Springfield College Pride, American College Yellow Jackets and held positions at Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning as well as Peak Performance Physical Therapy.